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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Wilco

Ups: Terrain looks great; lots of flight options; missiles!

Downs:  Pretty boring most of the time; worst game music I have ever heard.

System Reqs:
P200 MMX, 3D card w/ D3D support, 32 MB RAM, 190 MB HD

I often feel that there are some things that game developers should just steer clear of trying to replicate in the game world. Not that these things are necessarily stupid or even unworthy, but because in the process of recreating them on computer more often than not the entire point of these activities is negated. For example, bull riding might be fun and challenging and all, but in a bull riding simulation the player can genuinely do nothing but frantically jab some keys or manhandle the joystick and pretend that they are in some semblance of control. Grasping the physics of bull riding enough to reproduce them on computer is like explaining string theory in a game of Taboo; it ain’t gonna happen. That’s where I feel Hangsim belongs, teetering on the edge of flight sim and slowly slipping into utter pointlessness-the longer you play it, the worse it gets. Not that it’s the worst game I’ve ever played, its just some of the worst subject matter I’ve seen in a game for a while. 

Hangsim is Wilco’s first standalone title, and--as they are so proud to announce--the first light aviation sim on the market. What is light aviation? Well, it includes all forms of aerial transportation that are not regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration here in the States. Aircraft that do not meet the FAA’s minimum requirements for weight or horsepower and therefore do not need to be regulated by the government agency for airworthiness are considered light aircraft. The way I’ve always looked at it is that people that fly this stuff simply, and understandably, can’t afford “real” airplanes, or they’re just mad.

Hangsim offers seven light aircraft comprised of three hang gliders, two paragliders, a microlite, and a sailplane. The latter has been featured in other flight sims with some success like Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000's Schweizer 2-32 glider. In comparison to Hangsim’s Hawk, the FS2K’s glider was a much more rewarding experience and seemed to follow a more well thought out flight model. As far as the hang gliders go, the computer, without the aid of autopilot, consistently scored longer flights than if I was at the controls. I’m not sure if that was because of my inexperience at simulated hang gliding and general unfamiliarity with micro-meteorology, or if my joystick has a natural ability yet unexplored when left alone at this game. The paragliders need little mention other than it’s parachuting with a little motor strapped to your back and you’ll be lucky if you maintain any altitude or get moving faster than you could normally walk. The only redeeming aircraft is the microlite--more familiarly known as an ultralight--which putts around at speeds of 35 mph or so and flies more or less as it should.

I briefly mentioned micro-meteorology above and should go into more detail with it since it is central to the enterprise of gliding. Reportedly, Hangsim’s game engine takes into account the paths of air masses when affected be the sun’s heat, geography, and meteorological factors. For instance, darker patches of earth absorb more of the Suns’s rays, creating thermals, or areas of rising warm air. A glider pilot attempts to stay on top of or pass through as many thermals as possible to lengthen the flight. Occasionally the game would act as if it were considering phenomena such as these but did so sporadically and without consideration to where I was flying at the time.

Wilco boasts that this game offers “real-world 3D mountains, forests, cities, valleys, and seas depicted in 16-bit color and 3 meters/pixel resolution for a bird’s-eye view unmatched in clarity and detail by any other flight sim.” Now hold on a minute; the terrain is obviously taken from photos, but they're pretty motley ones. 3D objects are sparse, and don’t hold up to close examination. There are at least a couple of flight sims that are much more successful at squeezing out the details. At least this game maintains a respectable amount of variation in where to fly; if it weren’t for that I would have uninstalled it a lot sooner.

On top of the aforementioned problems, this game has, hands down, the most obnoxious in-game music I have ever encountered, it’s as if Brian Eno and John Tesh got together and noodled out a New Age masterpiece using a Casio keyboard that they dug up at the Goodwill. It almost drove me mad, and I compensated by unloading as many missiles as possible into helpless paragliders. Oh yeah, I almost forgot about the missiles, which are available to you through the Fun Flight option, and are the real highlight of the game.

Wilco’s previous projects include the Grand Canyon and Airport 2000 add-ons for Microsoft Flight Simulator; both turned out all right, but suffered from some of the same problems I saw in Hangsim, though not to this degree. I don’t know if I’d recommend this game to anyone unless they really wanted to fly the microlite, but the other stuff can be pretty much ignored. Lets hope this is not a trend for Wilco, and they get back to making decent add-ons for MFS.

--Thomas Hoff